With still no sign of the seven-year-old, some are doubting the accuracy of his parents’ account of where he was last seen.
It’s now been five days since Yamato Tanooka, a seven-year-old boy from Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, was reported missing by his parents. Initially, the child’s father, Takayuki Tanooka and his wife had told police that their son had become lost while on a family outing to gather edible mountain greens. When authorities noticed no such plants were present in the family’s car, though, the parents admitted that they had ordered their son out of their car to discipline him for misbehaving, and that when they returned five minutes later to pick him up, the boy had vanished.
A joint police, fire department, and Japan Self-Defense Forces search party has so far been unable to locate Yamato. Making things especially difficult is that the road where Yamato’s parents say they last saw their son is an isolated forest road, with thick vegetation starting roughly 10 meters (33 feet) from either side of the pavement. The foliage grows high enough to be taller than Yamato himself, which has some searchers worried that, with his visibility impaired, he may have fallen from a cliff that drops off to a marsh below not far from his last known location, as given by his parents.
Also troubling is the ineffectiveness of search dogs in the rescue effort. A police source involved with the search says that dogs have been given Yamato’s scent, but after being taken to the point where Yamato’s parents say he exited their car, the animals make no moves to leave the area. This behavior would suggest that Yamato was never in the place indicated by his parents, which has the source suspecting the pair is misremembering the exact spot where the boy left the vehicle.
This apparently isn’t the first time the memories of Yamato’s parents have been less than perfectly accurate. Initially, they had told authorities that their son was wearing jeans, but later corrected themselves, saying that he had been wearing navy nylon pants when they abandoned him.
Unfortunately, the largely undeveloped environment along the road means there are no security cameras the authorities can refer to footage from in order to confirm where Yamato was let out of the car. As such, the search area is being continually expanded, in hope that Yamato will be found safe.
Update: Yamato was found by a member of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces on the morning of June 3, alive and unharmed.